My fellow Real Estate Agents might give me a hard time for this post, but I don’t mind getting a little bit of flack if it means giving new homebuyers honest information.

A lot of real estate websites have a “home search” feature, which typically displays all the homes listed for sale with your local area’s MLS (Multiple Listing Service).  This would seem to be a very effective and convenient way for most people to peruse the homes for sale in their community–but like a lot of things in our world, there’s a catch.

Most of the time, these Real Estate Search features are actually syphoning the information on each property from the local MLS system.  The MLS usually has an agreement with it’s real estate agents that allows them to display some of the information on the MLS database on their personal or corporate websites.  So, in reality you are not looking at the real Multiple Listing Service.

The issue you should be aware of with these websites is that 1) sometimes the information is incomplete or outdated, depending on the servers for each individual real estate website; and 2) you often will have to give up some of your contact information in order to see all the data on the house (size, address, list price, etc).

This is what’s referred to as IDX (Internet Data Exchange) since the agent is giving you house information in exchange for your contact information so they can get in touch with you and see how they can help.

In most cases this is a non-threatening way for first time homebuyers to get in touch with an agent, and for agents to offer their assistance in the home buyer or selling process.  However, a lot of people aren’t aware that they’ll be contacted by an agent after they input their phone number and email (even though it will usually state that they will be contacted).

While there’s nothing wrong with this, it can sometimes be an awkward encounter for both the agent and the buyer/seller.  Often times buyers don’t really know enough about the home buying process to understand what questions to ask or steps to take.  And at the same time the agent is trying to get to know the buyer and their situation, in order to help them in the best possible way.

I have to admit, before I became and agent I even went on some of these “consumer sites” to search for homes in different areas that I was considering moving to.  So you’re not alone!

These “consumer sites” are a nice way to casually look at properties before you dive into the home-buying process.  However you still need to look at your financial situation before spending too much time on searching for properties online.

And once you meet with a Realtor, you can setup a search from the true MLS (in the Twin Cities it’s called the “Northstar MLS”) which will have all the accurate information matching your search criteria.

Happy House Hunting!

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Buying your first home? Want to start the process but don't know how? A smart buyer turns into a happy home owner. Steve Howe specializes in First Time Home Buyers in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. Learn how he can help you buy your first property without paying the commission.

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3 Responses to Finding Homes Online

  1. [...] Steve Howe posted a little insider information on his Minnesota First Time Home Buyers blog about how the typical Minnesota MLS search that you find on an agent’s website.  He explains both how this information can be outdated and incomplete, plus how you should expect a call from the agent that owns the website after you register to use his tools.  Take a read at finding homes online. [...]

  2. Thanks Steve! Its a little known fact, how many sites offer outdated real estate listing information. It sounds like the best way to sift through the homes on the market once you are serious, is to have your Realtor set up a customized Northstar MLS search for you. Do you charge to set up home searches for those looking to find the perfect place? Is there any obligation for home buyers who communicate with you about their home search specifics?

  3. Steve Howe says:

    Great questions! In short–no, there are no upfront fees to working with an agent in most cases. The hope is that by providing good information and guidance the buyer will want to work with the agent. I personally don’t charge anything at all for the services I provided–they are paid by the seller after the sale closes. So it’s a great way to get nearly “free guidance!”

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